Two Roads Diverged in a yellow wood…
Chapter One-A Slightly Different Beginning….
Ms. Petunia Dursley, of Apartment 2B North Hampton Square, was, in the opinion her neighbors, a very silly woman. She was always running around the community yard across from her flat, engaged in some nonsense or another with her son and nephew.
If there was a Mr. Dursley, the neighbors had never seen him. The rumor among the biddies of the neighborhood was that Ms. Dursley was divorced; one of the old gossips lived in the apartment below Ms. Dursley and her two charges and said she could have sworn that she saw Ms. Dursley receiving checks every month. Everyone agreed that Ms. Dursley's marital status (or lack thereof) was quite the scandal, and duly proceeded to gossip about her every chance they had.
Ms. Dursley was not the only topic of gossip regarding the occupants of Apartment 2B. In recent months, some talk had arisen about Ms. Dursley's nephew, a thin, dark haired boy named Harry Potter.
Harry Potter was small and skinny for his age. He looked even smaller and skinnier than he really was because all he had to wear were old clothes of Dudley's. The rumor was that Ms. Dursley, who held a job as a receptionist at a local dentist's office, could not afford brand new clothes for both children. Dudley had always been taller than Harry and so, for practicality's sake, Harry wore the clothes that Dudley grew out of.
He looked nothing like his aunt or cousin. While both Ms. Dursley and Dudley were rather tall with light blonde hair and blue eyes, Harry had a thin face, black hair, and large, bright green eyes that seemed to dance with mirth whenever anyone saw him. His appearance was made particularly peculiar by the round glasses that constantly framed those green eyes, as they were held together with a lot of Scotch tape because Ms. Dursley could not afford to replace them after he had fallen nearly six months before. The boy also had a faded, oddly shaped scar on his forehead that he proudly showed to anyone who asked about it.
"I got it when my parents died." He would say, pride echoing in his voice as he lifted his thick bangs out of the way for the inquirer to better see the odd little scar.
"What happened to them?" the inquirer would often ask, but Harry would only smile rather strangely and run off to play.
The child had lived with Ms. Dursley and her son Dudley for as long as anyone could remember. The building manager, who had worked at the North Hampton Square apartments for twenty years, said that he thought that Harry Potter had lived with Ms. Dursley since he was a very small baby. He said that a very harried Ms. Dursley had arrived at the North Hampton Flats nearly eleven years ago pushing two prams. One had held a blonde, rolly polly sort of baby, the other a very small quiet waif with large green eyes.
"I've never seen a woman look more exhausted before or since." He would chuckle, when asked about the strange little family on the second floor, "When I asked about the children, Ms. Dursley said that the blonde baby was her son Dudley, and that she had taken in the littler baby, that her was her sister's child. When I asked after her sister, Ms. Dursley said that her sister and brother-in-law had recently been killed in a car accident and that she was all the child had in the world."
And so, Harry Potter's presence was explained. His parents had died in a rather terrible car accident, leaving his poor, overburdened, scandalously divorced aunt to care for him.
Not only was the boy overburdening his aunt with his mere presence, but strange things often happened around Harry that simply could not be explained.
Once, a boy that had been teasing Dudley at school had been found stuck in a basketball hoop. None of the children could come up with an explanation for just how he had managed to get himself up there.
"He just suddenly was." One little girl claimed.
Despite the boy's insistence that Harry Potter had done it, the school administrators just could not imagine a scenario where little Harry Potter could throw another boy, twice his height, into a basketball hoop. It just wasn't possible.
Another time, Mr. Clayton down at the barber shop, claimed that Harry Potter had come into the barber shop three times in a week. Each time, the befuddled barber claimed, it looked as though his hair had not been cut at all.
Everyone who knew Harry Potter agreed he was quite odd. Strangely, Ms. Dursley didn't seem to mind.
You see, unlike her neighbors, Petunia Dursley was well aware of the cause of her nephew's strangeness, and, as his eleventh birthday approached, she found herself becoming more and more nervous.
Harry Potter was a wizard, a fact both her nephew and son were very well aware of. She had told them both when Harry turned five and turned all of his and Dudley's shirts red (Harry's favorite color). Petunia had explained that Harry's mother Lily (her sister) and his father, James, had been magical and that Harry was probably magical too.
Over the years she had fielded many questions from both Harry and Dudley. Was that why Harry could do all those strange things? Yes. Did his parents love him? Very much. Would Harry have to go away and live with magical people? No.
Petunia tried to answer the questions her nephew had for her as quickly and honestly as she could. She didn't want him to feel unprepared for the new world and the doubtless fame that lay ahead of him. She told him as much as her sister told her about the magical school of Hogwarts and explained that when he was eleven, he would receive a letter that would inform him that he had a place there.
Harry seemed excited about his magic at first, but over the years it had become something that he was used to, a part of him. He couldn't always control it, and Petunia didn't expect him to, but she did explain that magic outside of the wizarding would could cause problems. Her nephew became even more cautious after that. The majority of Harry's questions concerned his parents. What they were like, what they thought, what they did.
"Aunt Petunia," Harry would say, "What was my mother's laugh like?" and Petunia would try to mimic the sheer joy that Lily always had in her laugh.
"Aunt Petunia, what did my mother like best about being a witch?" and Petunia would answer.
She told Harry everything about her younger sister, strived to remember every detail that was Lily Evans. Every memory she had repressed, every song her sister sang, every annoying observation Lily had every made, Petunia tried to relate to Harry. She told him everything that she knew about James Potter, which she was sad to say, was not much.
She only had the one picture of the two of them, Lily's wedding photograph that their mother had sent to Petunia. The photograph moved, which Harry found fascinating, and she let him keep it under his pillow. She had no pictures of James Potter, but she covered the walls of their tiny apartment with photographs of Lily and her family from years ago. Petunia wanted Harry to know his mother, even if it was only though her own memories.
She had made many mistakes, and now that her sister was gone, caring for her son was the least that Petunia owed her baby sister.
It wasn't that much of a burden. Harry was easy to love. He was kind, smart, and very brave. He protected Dudley (who was a little shy still) and gave her son the confidence boost he needed. Harry was a gift to her, and she would not waste it being bitter about arguments long since over.
The night before Harry's eleventh birthday was a special one. Petunia prepared Harry's favorite cake (chocolate) and the three of them had a wonderful little party.
"But Aunt Petunia, today's not my birthday!" Harry exclaimed when she handed him her gift.
"We're celebrating one day early dear." She said, "I expect you'll be too excited tomorrow to have a party with us."
Harry rolled his eyes (he could never be too excited to eat cake!) and opened his present. There, in the package was a very warm looking fuzzy sweater, the exact shade of green his eyes were.
He smiled up at his aunt, "Thank you!"
"You're welcome darling." Petunia leaned over and gave him a peck on the forehead.
"I picked it out." Dudley said, smiling shyly.
"Thanks Dudley!" Harry beamed at his cousin, "I love it!" To prove it, he pulled the sweater over his head and wore it for the rest of dinner.
That night, many hours later, a breeze ruffled the untidy hedges in front of the flat, and in the air, one could sense that something astonishing was about to happen. In apartment 2B, Harry Potter could not sleep.
"Do you think it's real Dudley?" he asked his cousin, who was laying, equally awake just feet away.
"Dunno Harry." Dudley said, "I hope it's not."
"Why would you say that!" Harry exclaimed, sitting up suddenly in order to glare at his cousin, "Don't you want me to go to school? To learn to be a wizard?"
Dudley shrugged, still lying in bed down, "Not really."
"Why not?" Harry asked, becoming increasingly cross with his cousin.
"I don't want you to leave." Dudley said simply.
It was a testament to Harry's generous heart that he quashed his excitement and climbed into bed next to his cousin.
"You'll always be my best friend Dudley." Harry whispered, pulling his cousin into an awkward half hug, "I'll never forget you."
Outside of their door, Petunia Dursley smiled a little sadly and headed off to her bed.